BeOS was an operating system for personal computers which began development by Be Inc. in 1991. It was first written to run on BeBox hardware. BeOS was optimized for digital media work and was written to take advantage of modern hardware facilities such as symmetric multiprocessing by utilizing modular I/O bandwidth, pervasive multithreading, preemptive multitasking and a custom 64-bit journaling file system known as BFS. The BeOS GUI was developed on the principles of clarity and a clean, uncluttered design. The API was written in C++ for ease of programming. It has POSIX compatibility and access to a command line interface through Bash, although internally it is not a Unix-derived operating system.
BeOS was positioned as a platform which could be used by a substantial population of desktop users and a competitor to Microsoft Windows and Linux. However, it was ultimately unable to achieve a significant market share and proved commercially unviable for Be Inc. The company was acquired by Palm Inc. and today BeOS is mainly used and developed by a small population of enthusiasts.
Be Inc. sued  Microsoft claiming that Hitachi had been pressured to dissuade them from selling PCs loaded with BeOS, and that Compaq had been pressured not to market an Internet appliance in partnership with Be. BeOS also claimed that Microsoft acted to artificially depress Be Inc's IPO. The case was eventually settled out of court with no admission of liability on Microsoft's part.
Initially designed to run on AT&T Hobbit-based hardware, BeOS was later modified to run on PowerPC-based processors: first Be’s own systems, later Apple, Inc.’s PowerPC Reference Platform and Common Hardware Reference Platform, with the hope that Apple would purchase or license BeOS as a replacement for its then aging Mac OS Classic. Apple CEO Gil Amelio started negotiations to buy Be Inc., but negotiations stalled when Be CEO Jean-Louis Gassée wanted $200 million; Apple was unwilling to offer any more than $125 million. Apple’s board of directors decided NeXTSTEP was a better choice and purchased NeXT in 1996 for $429 million, bringing back Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. To further complicate matters for Be, Apple refused to disclose certain architectural information about its G3 line of computers - information Be deemed critical to making BeOS work on the latest hardware from Apple.
In 1997, Power Computing began bundling BeOS (on a CD for optional installation) with its line of PowerPC-based Macintosh clones. These systems could dual boot either the Mac OS or BeOS, with a startup screen offering the choice.
Due to Apple’s moves and the mounting debt of Be Inc., BeOS was soon ported to the Intel x86 platform with its R3 release in March 1998. Through the late 1990s, BeOS managed to create a niche of followers, but the company failed to remain viable. As a last-ditch effort to increase interest in the failing operating system, Be Inc. released a stripped-down, but free, copy of BeOS R5 known as BeOS Personal Edition (BeOS PE). BeOS PE could be started from within Microsoft Windows or Linux, and was intended to nurture consumer interest in its product and give developers something with which they could tinker.
Be Inc. also released a stripped-down version of BeOS for Internet Appliances (BeIA), which soon became the company’s business focus in place of BeOS. BeOS PE and BeIA proved to be too little too late, and in 2001 Be’s intellectual property was sold to Palm, Inc. for some $11 million. BeOS R5 is considered the last official version, but BeOS R5.1 “Dano", which was under development before Be’s sale to Palm and included the BONE networking stack, was leaked to the public shortly after the company’s demise.
Despite the end of Be Inc, BeOS remains popular among devoted followers. The BeOS community still develops free software and has even released patches, drivers and various updates to BeOS. The main source of BeOS-related software can be found at BeBits.
The BeOS user interface was notable at the time for being almost completely unthemeable, even with third party hacks. The BeOS theme of yellow, changing length tabs on the top of windows, and relatively plain grey interface widgets was enforced. This UI remained relatively unchanged from 1995, but had been completely overhauled by the time of the leaked Dano release. An Easter egg in the OS allowed changing the title bar look-and-feel to a few others (Mac OS 8, Amiga Workbench, and Windows 98 appearances) and in Dano, this had been extended to be a feature allowing changing of the title bar and scroll bars. No other interface widgets could be changed. There is a pre-Dano third party program WindowShade that allows the colors of the title bar and window frame to be changed, but the appearance remained the same.
|DR1–DR5||October 1995||AT&T Hobbit|
|DR6 (developer release)||January 1996||PowerPC|
|Advanced Access Preview Release||May 1997|
|PR1 (preview release)||June 1997|
|R3||March 1998||PowerPC and Intel x86|
|R4||November 4, 1998|
|R4.5 (“Genki”)||June 1999|
|R5 PE/Pro (“Maui”)||March 2000|
|R5.1 (“Dano”)||November 2001||Intel x86|
BeOS was well respected by a small but loyal user base which was disappointed when Be Inc. failed commercially and no further enhancement of the operating system would be possible. In the years that followed a handful of projects formed to recreate BeOS or key elements of the OS with the eventual goal of then continuing where Be Inc. left off. To ensure that the OS could not be "taken away" from the Be community again, and to attract the efforts of volunteer programmers, these projects were all free and open source software. The modular nature of the original BeOS facilitated recreating the operating system a piece at a time, inserting the newly coded modules into a working BeOS system to test compatibility. Eventually all of the “servers” (interworking modules of code) were to be replaced with original, freely licensed code.
But within a few years, some of these projects lost momentum and were discontinued. The domain name for Blue Eyed OS has lapsed and been taken up by another party, the most recent release available on the Cosmoe web site is from 2004 and active development on E/OS ended in July 2008. Development however continues on Haiku, a complete reimplementation of BeOS.
On April 2nd 2008, it was announced that Haiku was "self-hosting", meaning that it can now be built from within itself, thus reaching a critical step on the path to Alpha and Beta releases of a Binary Compatible and Open Source version of the final BeOS R5, released in 2001.
ZETA was a commercially available operating system based on the BeOS R5.1 codebase. Originally developed by YellowTAB, the operating system was then distributed by magnussoft. During the development by YellowTAB, the company received criticism from the BeOS community for refusing to discuss their legal position with regard to the BeOS code-base (perhaps for contractual reasons). Access Co. (which bought PalmSource, until then, the holders of the intellectual property associated with BeOS) has since declared that YellowTAB had no right to distribute a modified version of BeOS, and magnussoft has ceased distribution of the operating system.
BeOS (and now Zeta) continue to be used in media appliances such as the Edirol DV-7 video editors from Roland corporation which run on top of a modified BeOS and the TuneTracker radio automation software that runs on BeOS and Zeta, but is also sold as a “Station-in-a-Box” with the Zeta operating system included.
The Tascam SX-1 digital audio recorder runs a heavily modified version of BeOS that will only launch the recording interface software.
iZ Technology sells the RADAR 24, a hard disc-based, 24-track professional audio recorder based on BeOS 5.
Magicbox, a manufacturer of signage and broadcast display machines, uses BeOS to power their Aavelin product line.
The Casablanca-KRON from MacroSystem runs a modified version of BeOS 5. A dedicated computer built to edit video and audio, using a built in hard disk, CD-R(W)/DVD-R(W), and SD capabilities included to store media for later use and/or presentation. Made primarily for Schools and Universities.
Final Scratch – the 12” vinyl timecode record-driven DJ software/hardware system was first developed on BeOS. The ‘ProFS’ version was sold to a few dozen world-class DJs prior to the 1.0 release, which ran on a Linux virtual partition.